Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gephardt Called a Heavy Loss for Trade Pact

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gephardt Called a Heavy Loss for Trade Pact

Article excerpt

The assistant House minority leader predicted Sunday that the opposition of House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., would cost President Bill Clinton 35 votes for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the second ranking Republican in the House, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Gephardt's stature was such that his opposition alone would swing the votes of 25 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

"I think Dick Gephardt is the most popular Democrat in the House," Gingrich said. "He's widely liked and admired, on both sides of the aisle. So losing him on NAFTA is a big loss."

Gingrich added that he believes that NAFTA can still pass - assuming that Clinton and House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., succeed in rallying the support of their own party. "It's very important psychologically that they work to get their fair share of the vote," Gingrich said.

He predicted that 110 of the Republican House members would vote for NAFTA when it comes to a vote, probably later this year. The number needed for passage is 218.

Gephardt appeared on the same program, defending the NAFTA stance that has put him at odds with Clinton and much of his party. Gephardt reacted sharply to the suggestion that in opposing NAFTA he was pandering to the views of labor.

"You know, it's unfortunate in this," Gephardt said, "that we've become so cynical that we don't really believe anybody anymore." He pointed out that he had been working to improve NAFTA's terms for three years, with emphasis on worker rights for Mexicans, a guaranteed source of funds to pay for cleaning up the U.S.-Mexican border and the retraining of American workers who lose their jobs because of NAFTA.

"The real debate has to be about how to do NAFTA - not whether to do it but how to do it," he said, suggesting again that he was open to some last-minute renegotiation of the agreement. "I've felt for a long time that this is very important for us and the Canadians and Mexicans to do, but the way you do it is very important."

Asked which way the NAFTA vote would go, Gephardt said he knew only that it would be close. …

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